Learning Ladder’s close proximity to downtown makes it a valuable asset to Erie’s working families.
In 2011, Bridgeway committed to expanding its impact to under-invested areas beyond Pittsburgh. Erie emerged as an ideal location to expand. Once an industrial powerhouse, Erie fell into ongoing economic stagnation as its factories closed down.
Despite the challenges, the city’s entrepreneurial spirit and hunger for renewal made it a good fit for Bridgeway’s second office. Sean and Kenya Johnson, Bridgeway clients and owners of The Learning Ladder Early Child Care Center (Learning Ladder), embody that spirit. When Bridgeway made a loan to the couple in 2016 to grow their business, it was also a smart investment in Erie’s brighter future.
Basement to Small Business
Learning Ladder now cares for over 60 children, but the business’ early days were more modest. “I started off in the basement of my house in 2012” recalls owner Kenya Johnson. “We started off with eight kids, but six weeks later were at full capacity with twenty one kids.” Learning Ladder has grown steadily since.
When the opportunity arose to buy the building they occupied, the Johnsons sought financing to take the next big step. Because of a Growth Loan from Bridgeway, Learning Ladder acquired over 12,000 sq. ft. of additional space. The space enables the Johnsons and their staff to care for up to 75 children. Learning Ladder’s expansion provides a vital service and creates needed jobs in an economically challenged neighborhood of Erie.
Learning Ladder’s quality care and curriculum make it a Keystone STARS rated facility.
Erie’s Strategic Sectors
There are positive changes planned in and around downtown Erie. Learning Ladder’s location is strategically significant. According to the city’s comprehensive development plan, Erie Refocused, the Johnsons’ business is close to a key gateway into downtown. Bridgeway financed a number of projects in this critical area. “The growing excitement around the Erie Refocused plan creates new needs for Bridgeway loans” observes T.J. King, Director of Bridgeway’s Erie Office. “The plan calls for big investments in the low income neighborhoods. Bridgeway’s goals in Erie align well with the plan.”
By Aaron Aldrich, Bridgeway’s Business Education Program Director
Starting a business takes tenacity and drive. Every success presents new opportunities and new challenges. When working with Bridgeway your success is our success. We go beyond connecting opportunity with capital, we position your business to prosper.
Bridgeway’s Business Education Program connects entrepreneurs with expertise that positions their business for success. The program is designed to help our clients launch their business or overcome obstacles. We provide coaching and one-on-one consulting to borrowers at little to no cost. Our team of consultants are an extension of your management team. They help you execute projects and expand your expertise.
“I just closed my business loan after years of dreaming and months of planning. My business plan was sound and I had extensive knowledge of our product, but marketing my small business was new to me. The business education Bridgeway provided taught me how to promote my brand.”
– Mengesha Abtew, Kafa Buna Coffee
I work closely with SBA Microloan clients, Bridgeway’s Urban Entrepreneurs, Healthy Food Financing clients, and potential Bridgeway Clients to connect them to business resources, including:
Accounting and Financial Training
- Setup and use of accounting software
- Payroll management
- Financial strategy consulting
- Strategic marketing consulting
- Planning grand opening events
- Digital marketing
- Strategic planning assistance
- Subsidies to cover up to 50% of the cost to attend industry conferences and participate in small business programs provided by local Universities.
Clients work with their team of consultants for up to 6 months and develop a transition plan. The transition plan transfers knowledge and refers professional services to work with going forward. The Business Education Program is available to borrowers for the life of their loan.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-201-2450 x 131 to learn more.
Bridgeway is able to provide Business Education services at little to no cost with support from the Small Business Administration (SBA), Wells Fargo, Erie County Redevelopment Authority, and the Hillman Foundation.
New Kensington sits on the banks of the Allegheny River seventeen miles from downtown Pittsburgh. New Kensington’s history reflects a pattern of boom and bust familiar to many regional river towns. Decades of industrial decline took a major toll on economic vitality, and left many storefronts vacant.
Today, New Kensington’s story is changing for the better.
“New Kensington gets fresh energy from motivated residents, universities, and anchor institutions working to revitalize the downtown region.”
– Aaron Aldrich, Bridgeway’s Business Education Director
Helping to fuel that energy is Kafa Buna Coffee. Owners Mengesha Abtew and Waganesh Zekele support New Kensington’s renewal by pursuing their entrepreneurial goals from a reclaimed storefront in the town’s heart.
Kafa Buna Coffee opened in 2016 to bring Ethiopian coffee culture to the community. The business is Mengesha’s longtime dream. Kafa Buna Coffee evolved from his twenty five years of experience working in Ethiopia’s coffee and sugar industries. Recognizing Mengesha’s expertise and sound business plan, Bridgeway’s provided an Entrepreneur Loan for working capital to help Kafa Buna Coffee get started. Because entrepreneurs need more than financing to thrive, Bridgeway facilitated educational opportunities to maximize Mengesha’s chances of success.
“The educational opportunities Bridgeway provided accelerated the success of our startup.”
– Mengesha Abtew, Kafa Buna Coffee
Bridgeway provided one-on-one guidance and connected them with several experts to address their unique challenges. Mengesha and Waganesh worked with the Edmiston Group, a team of skilled marketing consultants. The team helped develop a marketing plan and worked with Mengesha and Waganesh on a well-attended grand opening event. Bridgeway funds projects with impact and guides clients with business ambitions. It is a comprehensive approach required by the region’s persistent economic development challenges.
Over the last several decades, many public schools in the Pittsburgh region have closed. Several vacant school buildings are in underinvested neighborhoods. The properties can deteriorate and become obstacles to revitalization. Communities are transforming these liabilities into valuable new assets. In 2016, Bridgeway Capital provided financing for the development of two vacant public schools into reimagined and restored community assets.
Space to Reverse the Achievement Gap
In June 2015, the Urban Academy of Greater Pittsburgh became an Allegheny County “Opportunity School” breaking the link between poverty and low student achievement. Demand for the high-performing school steadily grew, and Urban Academy needed to relocate to enroll more students. Bridgeway facilitated financing for E Properties and Development to renovate an abandoned school in Larimer into the Urban Academy’s new home. The new space allows the Urban Academy to increase their enrollment by 50%. It now provides an exceptional education to 330 low-income students and creates jobs for the community.
“It’s been 18 years of waiting but we’re here now and that’s what counts, that somebody else believed in us.”
– Dr. Gail Edwards, Principal & CEO of the Urban Academy
From Vacant to Vibrant
The Miller School in Pittsburgh’s Hill District has a proud past and vibrant future. The school was one of the first in Pittsburgh to educate African-American students. The school closed in 2008, and the building sat vacant. Derrick Tillman of Bridging the Gap Development now develops the abandoned property into affordable housing. The building’s rehabilitation will provide homes and jobs for Hill District residents. Bridging the Gap works with women owned and African American owned businesses in the development and to provide property services after project completion.
Derrick Tillman of Bridging The Gap Development transforming the abandoned Miller Street School into affordable housing in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.
Bridgeway supports real estate projects that improve the quality of life in underserved communities. These projects serve as catalysts for economic activity and opportunity in underinvested communities. Each constructed building or renovated property attracts new investment and revitalizes neighborhood infrastructure. In addition, development planning, construction, and ongoing maintenance offers a range of economic benefits.
Interested in speaking with us to see if your project would be a good fit for Community Development Financing?
Please contact us to get started.
Bridgeway’s Craft Business Accelerator (CBA) is a program at Bridgeway Capital connects entrepreneurial creatives with opportunities for small business growth. Our goal is to support a growing community of craft manufacturers that strengthens, expands, and diversifies Pittsburgh’s evolving economy.
“Buying specialty goods from Pittsburgh’s craft businesses and entrepreneurial artists is an investment in the city’s economic wellbeing. When they experience small business growth their success creates jobs and fosters exciting new opportunities for 21st manufacturing in the region.”
– Adam Kenney, Director of the Craft Business Accelerator
We sat down with Adam Kenney to hear his recommendations on where to find handmade wares and shop local this giving season. Check out his top picks for material and retailer type.
Paper & Print
Brick & Mortar
On October 19th, Bridgeway Capital celebrated its 26th Annual Event at the August Wilson Center. The venue was a model setting to share our clients’ stories of opportunity and renewal. 400 clients, investors, and supporters joined us to celebrate, network, and initiate exciting new collaborations.
“The energy in the room was inspirational. It’s incredible to see how many people Bridgeway Capital touches to energize local economies and serve citizens.”
– Susan Apel | K&L Gates and Bridgeway Board of Directors
2016 Impact & 2020 Goals
2016 marked the end of Bridgeway’s recent strategic plan. Last year we invested over $18 million in underserved communities. To make transformative investments in these communities, we raised more than $15 million in new grant capital. Then leveraged those funds with $12 million in new borrowed money, including, for the first time, large national banks like Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and Woodforest National Bank. As a result of these new investments, we will make even greater impact in 2017 and beyond.
In 2012 we invested $7.6 million focused on small business growth. In 2016 we invested $18 million using a people and place-based approach to invest in communities.
The results Bridgeway achieved this year were significant and inspire us to do more. By the end of 2020, Bridgeway aims to invest $100 million into underserved communities around the region. How will we accomplish this important and necessary goal? Bridgeway will do more people-based lending to support underserved small business owners. And we will do more place-based lending to reconnect disadvantaged communities with opportunity.
“When you look at Bridgeway’s growth over the last three years, $100 million is possible…and it is our responsibility. Based on our historical impact and current progress, the math and the mission are aligned for 2020.”
– Mark Peterson | Bridgeway President and CEO
Investing in People & Places
At the event we shared stories of character, opportunity, and perseverance by people and places that need it most. These are a couple of stories that inspired us to invest.
E PROPERTIES AND DEVELOPMENT + URBAN ACADEMY + BRIDGEWAY CAPITAL
E Properties and Development transforms an abandoned school in Larimer. Bridgeway provided the funding to help create a new home for Urban Academy Charter School, and offer its high quality education to more children.
GLUTEN FREE GOAT + BRIDGEWAY CAPITAL
For many people, gluten free foods are essential for good health. Jeanette Harris of Gluten Free Goat is changing the perception of gluten free foods. Bridgeway invested in Gluten Free Goat which saved a store front in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and provides healthier options for residents.
KMJ METALWORKS + BRIDGEWAY CAPITAL
We have found that with opportunity and support, craftspeople can quickly grow into small manufacturers that create jobs. Ramon Patterson of KMJ Metalworks is one of these emerging makers, and Bridgeway’s loan will help him grow his small business.
Bridgeway honored two clients with Impact Awards for their inclusive community development efforts. Larry Swanson and Linda Metropulos accepted for ACTION Housing to recognize the organization’s 59th year of affordable housing innovation. Emeka Onwugbenu of E Properties and Development accepted an Impact Award for his personal commitment to real estate projects improving disadvantaged communities.
Attendees also had a chance to meet six notable clients at their tables. Bridgeway is grateful for the quality of our clients’ vision, hard work, and their everyday impact. August Wilson asked us to “have a belief in yourself that is bigger than anyone’s disbelief.” This wise phrase defines Bridgeway’s work and underpins our commitment to the people making a difference in the region.
In the News
Check out these articles on Bridgeway’s 26th Annual Event.
Post Gazette: SEEN in the City